My first brush with a variation of biscuits and sausage gravy was something kindly called sh$t on a shingle, or creamed chipped beef on toast. I couldn’t understand how anyone had a disparaging word to say about this wonderful dish. It was amazing! Creamy gravy, salty beef and crunchy toast. Keep your breakfast pancakes, this was awesome!
Then, I had biscuits and sausage gravy. Combine a white gravy with my favorite breakfast meat and you have me at “gravy”. Let’s be clear, there’s not a single redeeming value about this dish. Sure, you could try to say you are getting “calcium” from the milk in the gravy. I use that justification for ice cream and milkshakes. However, let’s be real, this is a fairly empty calorie carbohydrate extravaganza. It’s up there with a doughnut for breakfast. Maybe a bagel with cream cheese. You get the drift. Not health food.
Biscuits and gravy have a storied history in America. The morning meal was terribly important, but, the meal needed to be economical. A meal that used flour, milk and scant meat was very well received. It kept people full for a day of hard labor in the field. It may have also been a small sign of rebellion, as it was entirely different from anything the British ate for breakfast. I picked recipes from the 1896 Boston Cooking-School Cook Book by Fannie Farmer. They mirrored other recipes and had exact measurements. The instructions were sometimes lacking and the ingredients weren’t necessarily listed in the order they were used. However, I love seeing the differences in preparation. Now, when you make pie crust or biscuits, you are admonished to keep everything cold, or the biscuits won’t be flaky. Mrs. Farmer makes no such admonishment. It just wasn’t an option during her time. Mrs. Farmer was more concerned about the oven being “hot”. If the biscuits were baked “too slow”, Mrs. Farmer warned that “the gas will escape before it has done its work”.
She has 3 versions of baking powder biscuits in her cookbook: Baking Powder Biscuit I, Baking Powder Biscuit II and “Emergency Biscuit”. I chose to work off of Biscuit I, as I didn’t have an emergency that a biscuit would solve. It also used lard and butter, versus just butter, which was good enough for me. I like the combination of the two fats, as they each add something different to the biscuit. Butter adds a flakiness as it melts and lard adds tenderness. I also interpreted a “hot oven” to be 425 degrees Fahrenheit. I can’t really say that I was impressed by the biscuits. They were very serviceable. They had a great crunch on the outside and were tender inside. However, they didn’t rise really high. Maybe that’s a modern convention. Maybe the oven needed to be hotter. Maybe, as an American, I’m used to biscuits that are just too big. I don’t know. They tasted wonderful, they just lacked in presentation. So, be warned. I passed it off as “how they ate back then”. No one cared and there wasn’t a drop left. They were very good, just a little plain.
The sausage gravy is a different story. Why does it have to be soooo drab? Fat, flour, milk, salt, pepper and bits of sausage. So bland, albeit delicious. But, what if it could be better? So, I decided to break the mold. I used onion. I know, gasp. I then added cognac. That’s a pearl clutching ingredient there. Look, this recipe can be fancied up. The cognac adds a warm layer of flavor that compliments the sausage perfectly. Your kitchen will smell amazing. I am using a small amount to deglaze the pan, nothing too boozy. You are free to leave these out for a more “pure” experience.
Biscuits and Sausage Gravy
Inspired by Baking Powder Biscuits I and White Sauce I from Fannie Farmer’s 1896 Boston Cooking-School Cook Book
Prep and Cook Time: 30-40 minutes
2 cups all purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon lard (or vegetable shortening)
2 tablespoons butter, divided
3/4 cup milk
1 pound ground breakfast sausage
1 small onion, finely diced
1 tablespoon cognac
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup milk
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
For the biscuits:
Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.
Mix dry ingredients together and sift twice. Work 1 tablespoon of butter and the lard into flour mixture with tips of fingers; add milk gradually while mixing with a knife. The amount of liquid needed to bring the dough together may vary depending on the flour. Place dough on a floured surface, pat and roll lightly to one-half inch thickness. Cut dough with biscuit cutter. Place biscuits on buttered pan, and melt the remaining butter and brush on the tops of the biscuits. For a crunchy surface use a cast iron pan. Bake for 10-14 minutes.
For the sausage gravy:
Over medium heat, brown the sausage and cook until thoroughly done. Remove sausage from pan. Sauté the onions in the sausage drippings until translucent. Add butter if more fat is needed. Deglaze pan with cognac. Add flour to the pan and cook until the raw flour taste is gone, about 1-2 minutes. Do not let the flour brown. Whisk in the milk and bring the mixture to a slow bubble. If the mixture becomes too thick, add more milk. Season with salt and pepper and return sausage to the pan. Serve over biscuits. Traditionally, this dish is served with scrambled eggs.